If you think about it, for the most part at least, our economy and the way we make and use goods tends to follow a rather linear process. Natural resources are extracted from the ground, turned into products, used by consumers, and thrown away. It’s a straightforward progression with a beginning and an end, and it’s a process that paved the way for enormous economic development during the 20th century.
However, this linear economy may not be sustainable from either an economic and environment standpoint in the decades ahead, prompting academics, economists and business leaders to come together to search for alternatives that can carry us through the 21st century.
And that’s where the circular economy comes in.
In recent years, more American companies have started to embrace a new economic model known as the circular economy. In short, the circular economy refers to a business mindset focused on eliminating waste and inefficiency and promoting greater resource productivity. It’s about looking for ways to foster sustainability through innovative design, new business models, supply chain improvements, and savvy collaborations, and it’s about pursuing win-win solutions that both promote economic growth and competiveness while simultaneously promoting positive environmental and social outcomes.
Corporate Citizenship Center Hosts Circular Economy Summit. Photo by David Butow / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit last week, representatives from companies from across the industry spectrum – from retail to energy to auto manufacturing – shared what their organizations are doing to foster a more circular economy and promote a sustainable future for the U.S. economy and the global economy. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from six innovative companies.
Dell has taken a stance to close the loop on material utilization, which entails taking products in the field back through the environmental recycling cycle, and then putting those recycled materials back into Dell’s products for remanufacturing. The cycle is specifically focused on plastic materials.
Dell’s Michael Murphy, Executive Director of Global Product Compliance, Environmental Affairs & Producer Responsibility, says, “We put about 11 million pounds of PCR product back into our products on an annual basis.”
Lockheed Martin Corporation
Lockheed Martin is on a mission to create products that can stay in use longer and then be re-purposed or re-used once they are worn out.
For example, as Matthew Swibel, Director, Corporate Sustainability, explained, “The F22 is supposed to last until 2060.” Along with creating longer lasting items, Lockheed Martin is a supporter of creating materials that can be reused. Swibel says, “200 jobs are created in repairing and refurbishing”, meaning that not only are materials being recycled but job opportunities are growing as well.
UPS is committed to using renewable and natural gas for all their vehicles. Having a circular economy is something that UPS finds very important. In addition, the company’s vehicles average lifespan is about 20 years, and when those 20 years come to an end, 98 percent of the inputs for the vehicles are now recyclable.
According to Tamara Barker, Chief Sustainability Officer, vehicles do not notice a difference between natural gas and reusable natural gas. With this being said, natural gas is let into fuel lines without difficulty. In total there are 44 natural gas stations across 21 states currently, she said.
American automaker General Motors is working on designs that are beneficial to not only customers, but also beneficial to the environment. This is a win-win for all, according to John Bradburn, Global Waste Reduction Manager,
“Having a physical design benefits numerous ecosystems,” he said at the event. Creating that extra step to ensure that a certain item or material can be recycled again is very important to General Motors.
June 27, 2017 – Washington, DC, USA: Corporate Citizenship Center Hosts Circular Economy Summit. Photo by David Bohrer / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Chevron Phillips Chemical Company is bringing innovative materials that help customers find new ways to help lower their use of materials and guiding them to recycle used materials. Educating customers to be aware of the future of a product will have a long term positive affect for the economy. Explaining that certain products are easier to recycle than other products is very important.
Recycling, reducing and reusing are a good start, but according to Rick Wagner, Global Sustainability Manager “There are other solutions that keep things away from the landfill” –and that begins with educating customers.
DSM North America
DSM has been on a mission to inform the public about the importance of recycling carpets. Each year around 4 billion pounds of carpet end up in landfills. DSM has created a carpet called Niaga that is a two layer carpet, made of polyester and is 100 percent recyclable.
“We didn’t just create a new product, we created a new opportunity for a new system,” said Hugh Welsh, President and General Counsel, “If carpets can be exiting in the circular economy, I am willing to bet there are a whole host of other things as well.”